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Exchange Club dedicates Freedom Shrine at RHMS
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Richmond Hill Middle School students look at historical documents hanging in a hallway at the school that are part of the Freedom Shrine donated by the Richmond Hill Exchange Club. The display was dedicated on Monday during a brief ceremony at the school. - photo by Crissie Elric

Some students at Richmond Hill Middle School got a brief history lesson on Monday when the Exchange Club of Richmond Hill held a special presentation to dedicate 28 historical documents to the school.
Known as the Freedom Shrine, the display includes copies of documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Mayflower Compact, the Treaty of Paris, the Monroe Doctrine, the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation and others.
Bob Whitmarsh, president of the Exchange Club, said sharing these plaques with young people is important to the club because it is part of their mission.
“The National Exchange Club has this program and opportunity for us to give back to the schools, and the mission of the Exchange Club is to support youth,” Whitmarsh said. “A lot of these documents don’t get recognition, and this will give the students on an ongoing basis to see what our forefathers have done in securing freedom for them.”
Rick Gardner, former County Commissioner and guest speaker of the ceremony, echoed those comments.
“One of the reasons the Exchange Club of America decided more than 40 years ago, in 1947, I believe, to assemble what we call the Freedom Shrine is so that Americans, especially young Americans, come to see themselves how freedom was actually purchased for us here in this country,” Gardner said.
“It’s much more than just 28 documents hanging in a neat row. If you look hard at those documents, study them, understand them and use your imagination, those freedom shrine plaques become transparent and turn into wondrous windows,” he continued. “The history of our nation is much more than just names, dates, faces wearing beards and bonnets, it’s a fascinating story of human triumphs, failures and determination.”
Gardner also took some time to explain to students the importance of the documents, and even shared his experiences of visits to some historical places such as a replica of the Mayflower, Valley Forge and the room where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.
“It’s a very small room, and once you visit it, you can’t imagine that he sat there by candlelight trying to put these thoughts together,” Gardner said. “That’s why it’s important to read the documents out there on the wall.”
According to David Aspinwall, Exchange Club member and one of the Freedom Shrine organizers, this dedication now makes it official that all schools in South Bryan County have a Freedom Shrine. There is also a display at the County Administration Complex in South Bryan as well, he added.
The plaques, which a cost of about $1,000, Aspinwall said, were co-funded by the Matthew Freeman Project: Pens and Paper for Peace, an initiative that collects and distributes school supplies to children in war-torn countries.
“Lisa (Freeman) was a middle school teacher until her retirement, so it is special that we are a part of this,” said Bonnie Proctor, who was on hand to represent the Freeman Project.
Whitmarsh added the benefit of working with youth extends to club members as well.
“We’re happy to do it, it’s a great thing and one of the best things we do as a club,” he said. “Having a purpose to help youth activities keeps us young and vibrant as a club.”
For more information about the Freedom Shrine, visit

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